The Washington Capitals returned to the friendly confines of Verizon Center on Wednesday night looking to clinch the top spot in the league standings for the season, and they did just that with a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers.
The teams battled to a scoreless first period, and it was looking for a while that the second period would end in similar fashion. But, with the time dwindling in the period, Justin Williams broke the scoreless tie. On a power play, the Caps worked the puck around the Ranger defense, Matt Niskanen sliding the puck down the right wing wall to Marcus Johansson. From the wall, Johansson found Evgeny Kuznetsov easing down the middle, and Kuznetsov relayed the puck to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Ovechkin fired and the puck nicked Williams on the way through to the net, changing its direction just enough to elude goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make it 1-0 at the 14:49 mark.
Early in the third period, Kuznetsov rewarded some sacrifice at the other end by a teammate. Brooks Orpik took a J.T. Miller drive off his knee, blocking the shot into the corner where Williams dug it out, chipping it up the wall to the blue line. The puck slid out to the middle where Johansson picked it up and headed up ice. Skating with Kuznetsov on his left, Joahnsson skated the puck to the Ranger line where he chipped a pass to Kuznetsov. Skating in alone on Lundqvist, Kuznetsov snapped a shot past Lundqvist’s blocker to make it 2-0, 5:42 into the period.
It was more than Braden Holtby would need, clinching the game and the Presidents Trophy in style by turning away all 24 shots he faced for the shutout and the 2-0 win.
-- The win was the Capitals’ 54th of the season, tying the 2009-2010 club for the second-highest win total in team history.
-- Justin Williams’ goal and assist made it points in nine of his last 14 games (4-6-10). It was his first multi-point game since February 22nd, when he had two assists in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. It was his first multi-point game at Verizon Center since he had a goal and an assist in a 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
-- The Caps choked the life out of the Rangers, holding them to 24 shots on goal, almost a third of them from defensemen (seven).
-- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 35th assist of the season, lifting him into a tie for seventh among left wingers in assists. It was his fourth straight game without a goal, although he might have had one had his power play drive not ticked off Williams, who was credited with the goal.
-- The power play goal scored by the Caps made it power play tallies in six of their last seven games, 11 of their last 14. Since January 1st, the Caps are 38-for-130 on the power play (29.2 percent).
-- Washington held the Rangers without a power play opportunity, the second time this season they accomplished that feat. They did it on February 24th in a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. The Caps might have had to face a shorthanded situation when the Rangers’ Chris Kreider took a penalty to put the Caps on a power play, but having Justin Williams take a penalty mid-way through the ensuing man advantage. The Rangers would have had an abbreviated power play when Kreider’s penalty expired, but they took a too-many-men-on-ice penalty to negate that possibility.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov snapped a three-game streak without a point with his goal and assist. It was his 16th multi-point game this season, tying him for fourth on the club with Marcus Johansson (Nicklas Backstrom: 21; T.J. Oshie: 17; Alex Ovechkin: 17).
-- Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik led the Caps in shots on goal with four apiece.
-- Braden Holtby’s shutout was his ninth of the season, tops in the league. It was his 32nd career shutout, lifting him into a tie with Boston’s Tuukka Rask for the most shutouts since Holtby came into the league in the 2010-2011 season (Henrik Lundqvist leads with 37). The win, his 42nd to lead the league, gives Holtby an even 90 wins over the last two seasons, 18 more than second-place Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks (72).
-- The Caps had just a one-shot edge overall (25-24) and at 5-on-5 (21-20), but they did have a slightly larger margin in 5-on-5 shot attempts (45-38/54.22 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
In the end…
Another solid win. Even in terms of playing the second of a back-to-back games scenario, the Caps looked to be focused and determined. It is a team back in full flight, going 10-1-1 in their last dozen games overall, and they are an amazing 20-1-1 in 22 home games in the 2017 portion of the season. They have outscored their opponents by a whopping 85-33 margin in those 22 games. The Rangers were not so much an opponent as they were another notch on the post. The Caps have made Verizon Center the most inhospitable arena in the NHL for visitors. It could not have come at a better time.